The 115,000-gallon public swimming pool at Raoul Illidge Sport Complex in Cay Hill was almost completely drained on Wednesday afternoon.
PHILIPSBURG--There was a pungent chlorine smell at the parking lot of Raoul Illidge Sport Complex (RISC) in Cay Hill on Wednesday during the day. Paradise Pools NV, responsible for the maintenance of the public swimming pool at the sport complex, had begun discharging 115,000 gallons of water from the thirty-metre pool the night before.
The company’s managing director Sophie Coen said that Paradise Pools NV takes responsibility for mistakes made during the maintenance of the public swimming pool which resulted in a high chlorine concentration in the water.
“Our measuring device did not show the accurate level of chlorine in the pool,” Coen said, confirming that additional chlorine tablets had been manually added to the water in the expectation that the measuring device would register this. “When this didn’t happen, we knew there was a problem.”
After consulting with her network, Coen decided to order more advanced equipment from a company in the United Kingdom. “I ordered testing and measuring equipment for potable water, which is much more sophisticated and will enable us to measure the water in the pool more accurately,” she said, indicating that the order had been made “ten days ago.”
“I expect it to arrive on island within the next ten days,” she added, noting that she has been busy tracking the shipment. Pending the arrival of the new measuring instrument, the Paradise Pools management had made plans to empty the Raoul Illidge swimming pool during the Carnival break [from April 24, 2023 – Ed.], Coen said. “But then we were notified of lab results from a sample that a parent had taken from the pool. That led to consternation, and accelerated everything.”
The sample to which Coen referred was taken on March 7, 2023, by a father whose eight-year-old daughter complained about burning eyes and respiratory problems after swimming in the Raoul Illidge pool. The parent is a doctor by profession.
Tests at the Environmental Laboratory in Simpson Bay showed that the pool water had a free chlorine concentration of 41 parts per million (ppm), while a level of 1-3ppm is regular for pools. A concentration of 10ppm and higher is considered not safe to swim in.
High chlorine in pools comes with a risk of chlorine poisoning. It happens when someone swallows or inhales chlorine. This can lead to difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting.
The tests at the lab also showed that the pool water at Raoul Illidge had a pH of 6.87. The advised alkalinity for pool water is pH 7-7.6. A pH lower than 7 is acidic and can cause stinging eyes.
The Raoul Illidge swimming pool was closed on March 8. The parents of the 600 children who participate in the school swimming programme on a weekly basis received the following message from the school board: “Good afternoon, parents/guardians, it has been communicated by the Department of Sports that the swimming lessons are halted until further notice. This means that there is no swimming class tomorrow.”
Party for Progress (PFP) Member of Parliament (MP) Raeyhon Peterson said that, as a parent, he is concerned that no explication was given to the parents nor to the children as to why the swimming lessons were halted. He requested clarification from Sports and Education Minister Rodolphe Samuel on Monday, March 13, during the presentation of the draft budget 2023 to Parliament.
“What is actually happening at the Raoul Illidge swimming pool?” Peterson asked. Samuel answered in Parliament on Wednesday: “On Monday, March 6, one student complained to their teacher of challenges they were experiencing, relating to their attendance at the swim programme on Thursday March 2. This was not brought to the attention of the Facility Manager until Wednesday, March 8, when a family member of the student was seen at the facility trying to get a sample of the water without permission.”
Stressing that reports about dozens of children experiencing health issues were “inaccurate,” Samuel said, “Once the situation became clear, all users were contacted and informed of the situation and the programmes were postponed as a precautionary measure pending the results of an official lab test.”
The lab results obtained by The Daily Herald show that the sample from the pool was brought in on March 7, 2023. The parent who took the sample from the pool explained to the newspaper that he had gone back to the pool on March 8 to take more samples, after the first sample turned out to have a hazardous chlorine concentration of 41ppm. On return to the pool, he was told to leave by the management of the sports complex.
National Sport Institute (NSI) managing director Mike Cornet strongly disapproves of the parent’s action. “If anyone has a complaint about the public pool, they should come to us, and not take it upon themselves to take water samples. If we were duly notified, then we would have immediately taken the necessary action. That is what we did after we learned about the complaint on March 8: we ourselves took a sample of the water and brought it to the laboratory for testing.”
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) sent out a press release late Wednesday night, stating that the ministry would like to inform the public that “we are taking all necessary precautionary measures where the safe usage of the pool at the Raoul Illidge Sport Complex (RISC) is concerned. …
“We received the lab results on Monday, March 13, and we can mention that the results showed no bacteria, good ph levels, but high levels of chlorination. The levels of chlorination shown are, however, lower than what was mentioned in the reports.”
This newspaper learned from a credible source that in the five days prior to the ministry receiving the lab results on March 13, pool maintenance workers from Paradise Pools had diluted the water in the swimming pool in an effort to lower the concentration of chlorine. However, the March 13 results showed that the level of chlorine was still 10 times higher than the regular level of 3ppm.
“It was not good,” confirmed director Coen of Paradise Pools. “Do note, however, that this public pool, where 600 children come to swim every week, needs to be heavily sanitised due to high usage and contamination with bacteria from sweat, urine and stool. To make sure that these bacteria are killed, we add more chlorine at Raoul Illidge than we would at the pools of hotels and private homes that we keep clean.”
Where 1-3ppm chlorine is regular for swimming pools, the pool maintenance workers would add 5ppm chlorine to the public swimming pool, Coen said. “We don’t want to risk any child from getting sick from contamination. My own child gets swimming lessons at Raoul Illidge too.”
Coen called the chlorine excess and subsequent closure of the pool “very unfortunate”. It was a mistake, non-intentional, and is considered a strong learning lesson by the team of Paradise Pools.
“It is the first time this happened in the 37 years’ existence of our company,” said Coen, who stressed that precautions have already been taken to prevent recurrence in the future. “In addition to our regular weekly testing of the pool water, we will send samples to the lab every month, just to be sure. We will also drain the pool and refresh the water more often.”
The ECYS Ministry announced to the media that the pool will remain closed until Monday, March 20, “as we anticipate the completion of the implemented measures by then. We thank our many users for their patience while we go through these processes and implement these measures to ensure the safe usage of our facilities for our users.”